Soon after James H. Webb published his Vietnam War novel, "Fields of Fire," in 1978, which was based on his own experiences as a highly decorated Marine in the Vietnam War, he showed up at Appalachian State University to take part in the Festival of the Written Word. He happened to be on the program that year with investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who had just broken the story of the My Lai Massacre and Lt. William Calley, and I recall being at dinner with the two of them -- muscular little Marine Jim Webb and the wiry muckraker Hersh -- eyeing each other with distaste at opposite ends of that long table. I thought, "We might have our own Vietnam War incident right here, tonight," but everybody stayed cool. (Hersh took notes on what everyone told him, storing away names and anecdotes in a little notebook like a squirrel stores acorns.)
I engaged Webb that evening about his name, since I know another Jim Webb in eastern Kentucky, and it turned out that Marine Lt. James Webb had all kinds of family in the Appalachian coalfields, especially in southwest Virginia.
So his decision to file to run for the Senate this year in Virginia against George "Howdy Doody" Allen is partly a matter of reclaiming his birthright. It's also a matter of giving Sen. Allen a real run for his money.
My impressions of James Webb back in the early 1980s put him pretty much in the "strong Republican" category, and he did subsequently serve as Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Navy. I recall his rather bitter campaign against Maya Lin's design for the Vietnam War Memorial on The Mall. He thought the design somehow dishonored the dead. His distaste for the Memorial design did not prove to be perceptive; Lin's Vietnam "Wall" is one of the most emotionally overpowering monuments in that monument-rich city. And luckily for the Virginia Democratic Party, Webb's alliance with the Reagan Republicans also didn't last. Webb's assessment of George W. Bush in 2004: "He committed the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory" with the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
So we're tickled to see him running for what should be a very safe Republican seat in the U.S. Senate. Truly, he IS George Allen's worst nightmare, an actual patriot warrior who knows what he's talking about, who was earning medals in combat while George Allen was coasting on student deferments. We heard somewhere that Allen's approval rating in Virginia is just barely over the 50 percent mark, and he'll actually have to scramble against Webb.
Might put a crimp in Allen's presidential ambitions in 2008 too.